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Green Spaces: Protection

Volume 738: debated on Monday 16 October 2023

Through the Levelling Up Parks Fund we have made available £9 million for local authorities in areas of high deprivation to create or significantly refurbish green spaces. The fund also includes the planting and maintaining of trees and encourages projects to work towards green flag award status.

I thank the Minister for that answer. What steps is she taking to ensure that proposed sites for housing that are completely unsuitable for reasons of biodiversity or lack of access or proximity to a site of special scientific interest are not taken forward and built upon? Although this is a national, not local, question, I am thinking particularly of a contentious application on Water Lane in Knaresborough, which has previously been refused.

My hon. Friend will, I hope, understand that I cannot comment on that specific case or situation, but it is really important that local authorities make decisions according to their local plans, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out earlier. If local authorities have a plan in place, it allows them to set out where they would like to see development that benefits their natural environment take place.

In England, we have also set out that from January 2024 biodiversity net gain will apply to mitigate the impact of major development. That requires developers to deliver 10% biodiversity net gain.

In 10 days’ time Bradford Council is likely to give the green light to yet more houses to be built in Silsden on valuable green space. If approved, the additional 140 houses will follow many hundreds of houses currently being built in Silsden, and many more are awaiting planning approval. Silsden’s infrastructure simply cannot cope. Does the Minister agree that Bradford Council should prioritise Silsden’s infrastructure first, rather than seeing the area as a quick win for achieving its housing targets?

My hon. Friend is completely right. As ever, he champions his constituents over the actions of Labour-run Bradford Council, which obviously has a detrimental impact on his constituent’s lives. Local authorities have an obligation to spend section 106 receipts in line with the purpose for which they were agreed, for exactly the reasons he gives. We are committed to introducing new measures through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill that will give greater certainty to local communities about the infrastructure that will be delivered in their area.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is going through its local plan process at the moment. I welcome the fact that the Conservative-led administration has reduced the overall number of new homes to 7,000, from the 11,500 in the previous, Labour-led local plan, which would have carpeted over our green spaces, as the Leader of the Opposition seemingly wants to do everywhere. Nevertheless, some people are unhappy. Would the Minister join me in urging the council in its next draft to further prioritise brownfield development, which is the key to regeneration?

I can assure my hon. Friend that it is the Government’s policy to strongly encourage local authorities to make the most of brownfield land first, especially for new homes. It is right that if local authorities want to alter a green belt boundary, they have show exceptional circumstances. We Conservatives believe in preserving our green spaces, and it is interesting to hear the proclamations from the Opposition. I will be very interested to see whether they propose concreting over the green spaces surrounding their own constituencies.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group for healthy homes and buildings. We have undertaken an inquiry and sent the report through to Ministers. The recommendations from that were clear: while it is good to have healthy, energy-efficient homes, it is really important to have green space around those houses. Has the Minister had an opportunity to read the report from the APPG? If not, I will ensure that she gets a copy, and I hope that she will then come back to me on the recommendations.

I thank the hon. Gentleman so much for his comments, and I would be delighted to read the report from his APPG and respond to him. I fully agree with his broader point that green spaces are vital for mental health and wellbeing, as well as physical health.